EDITORIAL: Why Clayton Phillips is Penn State’s Most Important Player
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When defender Clayton Phillips transferred from Minnesota to Penn State after his sophomore year, the Nittany Lion faithful knew they were getting a good one.
Now one season in the blue and white under his belt, Phillips looks to cap his college career with a statement.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ third-round prospect is everything the Nittany Lions have needed since the birth of their program. Phillips is the perfect two-way defenseman. He can provide a little offense, but his speciality is his elite hockey IQ in the defensive end.
Headed into the 2020-21 season, Phillips will likely be paired with shutdown defenseman Paul DeNaples. This top line defense unit will certainly be one that head coach Guy Gadowsky can count on to log big minutes against top competition.
Penn State is losing tremendous talent from its championship-caliber team a year ago. The loss of program greats Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro will be a huge dent for the team to fill. Defensively, they lost Big Ten Player of the Year Cole Hults to a professional contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
The good news is the return of Alex Limoges, who has recently been touted on the Preseason All-Big Ten first team.
Phillips, despite being the second-highest draft prospect in program history, was not even listed on the Big Ten’s honorable mentions.
So how come I believe Phillips is Penn State’s most important player?
First, it's easy to point to team success with and without him. In 2018-2019, without Phillips, Penn State had one of the most potent offensive teams in college hockey history. Their NCAA-leading 177 goals blew the doors off second place St. Cloud State, which ended up being the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
While you would think that team was destined for greatness, their defense might have been as bad as their offense was good. They finished 58th of 60 in goals against, enough to cost them a spot in the postseason.
A year later, Phillips entered the fold, and the team completely transformed. The Nittany Lions finished in the top 25 in goals against while still keeping most of their offensive production.
Phillips won’t be flooded on the score sheet, but make no mistake—he is a special player. He is really strong with his lower body and has great balance when skating. There’s very little unnecessary or wasted movement, which allows him to get around the ice smoothly and efficiently. In addition, Phillips is a solid puck handler which makes him good under pressure.
I believe Phillips is not only the most important player, but also the most valuable. An injury or slump in his game and Penn State will struggle to replace those minutes.
While Alex Limoges and the offensive system will be on display once again, it is the reliability and consistency of Clayton Phillips that will play a critical factor moving forward.
Kyle Cannillo is a junior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.